Aligning with Greatness: Dr. Dorothy Height and Sisterhood Summer of 2008


Blanche  Dorothy Height“Sisterhood represents a code of excellence in consciousness, character, and conduct. It requires all the members of its circle to operate at their highest and most divine state of distinction.” —Excerpt from Sisterhood of Greatness Pledge by Blanche A. Williams, MS

Having a passion with vision, a clear strategy and the desire for collaboration are strong building blocks for successful relationships and achievement. We, as a people, are stronger together, then we are ever alone. When I began studying the life and achievements of great black women, I discovered a common a thread of purpose, preparation and perseverance.

In 1991, while living on South Beach in Florida, I was given an unforgettable book as a gift, I Dream A World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America by Brian Lanker. The 75 women included in this guidebook of greatness served to inspire, challenge and connect me with an illustrious sisterhood that would serve to inspire my future aspirations as a communicator and collaborator.

On January 20, 2003, I became one of the first black females on XM Satellite Radio with a national live daily talk show on two XM channels, The Power-Channel 169, the only African-American Talk Channel and Take Five-Channel 155, the only Women’s Talk Channel. I understood the significance of my role and responsibility as a journalist and media personality. My show, Greatness By Design, became a platform for substantive conversations and addressing issues that mattered to women of color.

On April 18, 2007, shortly after racist comments made by Radio Talk Show Host Don Imus about Rutgers University Championship Women’s Basketball Team, who were predominantly black, I conducted my first special live two-hour discussion titled “Race and Gender in our Nation,” followed up by a second discussion on April 25 with guests including the distinguished Dr. Mary Frances Berry, Jill Nelson, Marjorie Harris, A’Lelia Bundles, Georgia Goslee, Melani Douglass, Cora Daniels, and Moya Bailey.

This discussion of issue of race and gender expanded into the first XM Radio live National Women’s Town Hall Meeting held on May 30, 2007, dedicated to answering the question, “Where do we go from here?” I was blessed enough to bring together a diverse panel of women including Marie Johns, Kim Gandy/NOW, Vicki Shu Smolin/Organization of Chinese Americans, Rev. Marcia Dyson, Leslie Sanchez, and Jewel Jackson McCabe/100 Black Women. The overwhelming response and alliances forged, as a result of this national conversation, prompted me to visualize the next step; bringing black women together to discuss our agenda. What did we want, for ourselves, our families, and our future, as we stood at the doorway of changing history in the White House?

Dr. Dorothy Height was no stranger to Washington politics, U.S. Presidents, or struggles required to attain women and civil rights. I knew that in order to have Dr. Dorothy Height and the National Council of Negro Women even consider talking with me, let alone collaborating with me, I had to show a clear vision with a strong strategy. It was because of an initial conversation with NCNW’s Dr. Avis Jones-DeWeever, then Director of Research, Public Policy and Information Center that I ultimately had the privilege of collaborating with Dr. Dorothy Height, Civil Rights Icon and Chair/President Emerita of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW).

In February 2008, I was able to introduce to a sold-out NCNW audience, a provocative documentary, The Souls of Black Girls, by Filmmaker/Producer Daphne Valerius, which took a critical look at media images—how they are instituted, established and controlled. The documentary featured candid interviews with young women discussing their self-image with social commentary from Actresses Regina King and Jada Pinkett Smith, PBS Washington Week Moderator Gwen Ifill, Rapper/Political Activist Chuck D, and Cultural Critic Michaela Angela Davis, along with historical information for context. The discussion afterwards with the filmmaker was powerful.

Later that week when I interviewed Dr. Height on my radio show, she called the film, “the answer to a prayer,” because the “NCNW has a major responsibility to focus on what happens to girls….the mothers of our future.” At 96 years young, she was an amazing example of leadership, grace, and humility. She didn’t mince words but was always clear and firm in her words but uplifting in its delivery. The success of this event opened the door to my presentation to NCNW of the next initiative that would coincide with the most historical presidential candidacy of our time.

The summer of 2008, became Sisterhood Summer. On July 11. we would convene the First Annual National Black Women’s Town Hall (NBWTH) Meeting at the historical headquarters of the National Council of Negro Women, as part of another sisterly collaboration with Dr. Dorothy Height. To say I was nervous would have been an understatement because I was in the presence of royalty. Dr. Height called me into her office and shared with me the gratitude and pride she had about what I decided to develop and that Mary McLeod Bethune just wanted us to “do what you can.” That day, she knew I had a lot I was thinking about from a national audience watching on C-Span, panelists that had flown in from around the country, but most importantly she wanted to let me know that she was proud of me. With my anxiety showing, she shared a great piece of advice. She said in her sweet southern voice, “organize your butterflies.”

Soon after, I opened the meeting by sharing the cause, reading a special letter from Mrs. Michelle Obama, wife of then Presidential Candidate, Barack Obama, along with special proclamation from the Mayor of the District of Columbia Adrian M. Fenty followed by recognition of special guests, including former DC Mayor Marion Barry and our sponsors Lifetime Television’s Every Woman Counts Campaign, Procter & Gamble’s My Black Is Beautiful, and Heart & Soul Magazine.

The event at the historical NCNW Headquarters was again standing room only and nationally televised on C-Span. Black women were brought together, on one national accord, to discuss and develop an agenda for the incoming Administration that spoke to the issues of their lives, families and communities, along with providing recommendations to address them. We commissioned our own national survey through Nia Enterprises, LLC, an online publishing, research, and marketing services company, dedicated to women of color. We wanted this meeting to be driven by our issues with experts, surveys and results designed by and for us.

Alpha Sigma Tau (AKA) became the 2008 recipient of the NBWTH’s first Landmark of Greatness Award, for its 100 years of service and sisterhood. As a sign of respect for this accomplishment, Dr. Height went a step further by wearing a gorgeous hat in their symbolic AKA pink color, even though she is was a proud Delta Sigma Theta. This gives you an idea of the level of class and sisterhood she exemplified in both her words and deeds.

Our Inaugural panel included some of the nation’s most distinguished women, including Dr. Julianne Malveaux/Bennett College, Faye Wattleton/Center for the Advancement of Women, Dr. Jane Smith/Spelman College, Eleanor Hinton-Hoyt/Black Women’s Health Imperative, Melanie Campbell/National Coalition of Black Civic Responsibility, Daphne Valerius/The Souls of Black Girls, Sheryl Huggins-Salomon/Nia Enterprises, Dr. Tricia Bent-Goodley/Howard University, and Dr. Avis Jones-DeWeever/NCNW.

Dr. Dorothy Height, Chair/President Emerita of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) from 1937 until her passing in 2010, will forever remain a National Treasure, leading Civil Rights activist and Black Women’s advocate. On the day of her passing, I was honored and humbled to be asked by National Public Radio (NPR) to speak about what she would want moving forward for our women and girls. The NCNW represents a coalition of over 30 organizations representing over 3 million women. The Sisterhood Summer of 2008 in DC was the culmination of a coming together of black women in the spirit of sisterhood and strategy as we embarked upon what would become the most historic and challenging U.S. Presidency of our lives.

We are tied to each other because of the fabric we were created within. Our power is    intergenerational! When we look at the landscape of our lives, there will always be a sister who can help you through any peak or valley because they have already walked that path. We will learn to be each other’s source and voice. When we apply our understanding and willingness to tap into the wisdom of the sisterhood, we will experience a bond that is transformative and exhilarating. We are our sisters.” —The Sisterhood of Greatness Manifesto Code #10-Reunite Our Sisterhood


About Blanche A. Williams, MS

As former National XM Radio Talk Show Host, Blanche has conducted interviews with some of the world’s most fascinating and famous people of our time. She’s also been working on behalf of black women and girls including 2008-2010 National Black Women’s Town Hall Meetings in sisterly association with Dr. Dorothy Height/National Council of Negro Women DC, Howard University DC, Bennett College NC and LEAD Spelman College GA.  She wrote The Sisterhood of Greatness Manifesto: 10 Core Values and Codes of Conduct to Achieve Your Divine Design™ and The Sisterhood of Greatness Pledge to assist our women and girls in understanding their true potential.  It was recently published within The Sisterhood Agenda’s Black Girls Guide: How To Be A Sister.  She is also President/CEO of Greatness By Design, LLC The Center for Learning, Leadership and Team Development.

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